by Peter Thomas
When River Rhein leaves Auckland’s North Shore to begin a new life in a remote cabin built by her ex-husband’s grandfather in a tiny West Coast settlement, she scarcely imagines that she is taking herself and small son into danger and long-standing intrigue.
Anyone who has ever moved from a city into a small community will identify with the warm welcome, tinged with friendly curiosity, that River and 2-year-old Davy receive from Kurupaenui’s handful of permanent residents. However, nothing can prepare her for being woken by a cannon salute the next morning. The story behind this noisy awakening is the first indication of just how different Kurupaenui folk are to the city people River has left behind.
Thomas lets River tell her story in a chatty, colourful style that drew me into her situation immediately. Evocative descriptions of the West Coast paint a vivid picture of its isolation and ruggedness.
Several unsettling events in the cabin soon after her arrival warn River that there is something amiss in this outwardly idyllic place and in fact, as the story unfolds it is clear that Wild Garlic’s plot has all the ingredients of a gripping thriller.
However, Thomas has used the daring technique of alternating fiction (River’s escape from Auckland, the mystery surrounding the cabin and her fledging relationships with Kurupaenui’s inhabitants) with chunks of non-fiction which range from the story of HMS Revenge (1577-91), dealing with stress, the plight of Romany people in Nazi Germany and astronomy. While the inclusion of this factual information, related by the people in the village, each according to his or her background, tells River more about her neighbours, I felt that it interrupted the flow of the story: the information is often delivered in the context of a conversation which has degenerated into a lecture with River reduced to the role of listener. I would have preferred Thomas to have aimed less at ‘teaching’ River (and his readers) and to have invested more in developing the intriguing plot.
Wild Garlic spans several generations and embraces different cultures, religions and socio-political views: the very nature of the plot means that there is a dark thread running through it and I would have liked to see the characters involved much more in solving the mystery that surround River’s cabin.
Even more daring, perhaps even reckless, than this mix of fact-fiction is River’s frequently repeated contempt for the National Party and Auckland’s North Shore. Considering how many potential viewers this could alienate, I feel Thomas could have played down River’s opinion of her ex-husband’s politics and their neighbourhood.
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Author: Peter Thomas
Publisher: Good Hope
Available: Paper: order from bookshops; Good Hope Publishing House, PO Box 596 Picton 7250, firstname.lastname@example.org; or Copy Press www.copypress.co.nz
Kindle ebook from Amazon